Day camps and child care facilities will be allowed to reopen during the next phase of Massachusetts’ gradual reopening of the economy, once they have met several requirements for keeping children and staff safe, Governor Charlie Baker said Monday.
Though overnight camps will not be able to reopen until later this summer, day camps and child care centers can begin to submit plans after they satisfy the newly released minimum requirements during the second phase of reopening, which is slated to begin as soon as Monday.
The new rules were announced as the Massachusetts death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surged to more than 7,000 and the total number of cases surpassed 100,000. The higher-than-usual spike was a result of the state’s decision to begin including probable as well as confirmed cases in its tallies. There were 189 new deaths and 3,840 new cases reported. In terms of confirmed numbers, the state reported 48 new fatalities and 326 new cases.
The guidelines for camp and day care, released by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, call for children and staff to have their temperature checked every day before they enter. Parents will also answer have to a series of questions about the health of the child and all others in their household, including specifics on individual symptoms, before the child can enter a day care space.
Staff and children over 2 are encouraged to wear masks whenever 6 feet of physical distancing is not possible.
Children will be restricted to groups of 10 and must remain with the same staff and the same children throughout the day. Staff cannot “float” among groups during the day or day-to-day unless needed to supervise specialized activities, such as swimming or archery, that involves different groups.
However, regulators did not restrict any children based on age. The department had considered initially excluding infants, who demand the most hands-on care, from reopened child care centers.
“It’s much better than we expected. I’m really pleased to see that,” said Christopher Vuk, the owner of Rock and Roll Daycare. He launched a petition and an advocacy group called Daycares United to represent the needs of some 100 centers struggling during the shutdown. “I don’t think it solves everything but it’s a big win.”
The health requirements cover all programs serving children and youth, including recreational summer programs, camps, home-based child care, and center-based child care. All the programs will need to get their plans for health and safety approved before they can reopen, beginning in phase two. The governor had previously called for keeping child care programs closed through June 29.
Teresa Greenberg, who own Early Risers in Brookline Village, said she felt “overwhelmed” by the new requirements but would meet them. “What’s most important is that our teachers are excited to come back,” she said. “We’ve been preparing them for this new normal. They are nervous but they miss the children and they want to get back to work.”
Her husband, Jason Greenberg, added that he wants to prepare those teachers to ensure they’re ready.
“We’re going to be spending at least an entire week before reopening retraining our teachers, putting them in situations that are difficult to navigate,” he said.
The guidelines ask providers to prepare the program space to promote physical distancing — with individual groups separated by permanent walls, movable walls, or other partitions.
They also require flexible sick-leave policies that encourage employees to stay home if they have a cough, difficulty breathing, or other symptoms that could be indicative of COVID-19.
They also ask for staff older than 65 and those with underlying health conditions to assess their risk of returning to work with a health care provider.
The department consulted third-party experts in pediatrics and epidemiology and worked with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the departments of Public Health, Children and Families, and Elementary and Secondary Education to develop health and safety requirements.
Most of the state’s 9,000 child-care programs have been closed since mid-March due to the threat of the coronavirus. Roughly 500 programs remained open to serve the children of essential workers, free of charge.
Starting next week, Baker said, employees will be permitted to enter day cares and other businesses to prepare for reopening, and safety protocols must be observed.
Also Monday, the Baker administration released new guidelines for retailers, extending many of the same measures that have been in place for essential businesses to nonessential stores.
Storefronts must limit visitors to 40 percent occupancy and are encouraged to offer special hours for at-risk customers. Indoor malls and other multitenant buildings must also monitor the number of people coming and going through common areas and keep the children’s indoor play areas as well as seating at food courts closed.
The governor mandated that both shoppers and workers should wear masks in stores, and he encouraged store owners to create appointment-only shopping as a way to limit the number of people coming in and out. Customers shouldn’t expect to try things on once they make their way back into stores: Fitting rooms will be closed and offering make-up and perfume samples will not be permitted.
“We want to thank the Baker/Polito administration for this important step of small business flexibility and consumer choice,” Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “As we move forward to both safe shopping and economic growth, we urge our consumers to remember that they should shop like jobs depend on it, because they do.”
Meanwhile, Massachusetts pledged to lower its percentage of daily tests that are positive for COVID-19 under 5 percent by the end of July, under an agreement with federal officials that provides the state with $374 million to greatly expand testing.
Under the plan, the Baker administration also pledged to increase lab testing capacity to 45,000 a day by the end of July. It currently has the capacity to test up to 30,000 daily, the plan said. As part of that ramp up, the state said its own lab, which is processing about 400 tests daily, will receive high-tech machinery that will allow it to complete roughly 1,300 per day.
The administration told federal regulators it will ensure “timely” access to testing for all symptomatic individuals, including those with “mild symptoms” and their close contacts. Additionally, the plan pledges to increase access to testing for “vulnerable and high-risk populations.”
Travis Anderson, Jaclyn Reiss, Kay Lazar, and Janelle Nanos of the Globe staff contributed to this report.